PHILADELPHIA -- Religious scholars addressing the Persian Gulf crisis at a seminar here yesterday were divided on many Middle East questions but united in their opposition to a war with Iraq.
The only laughter during the four hours of discussions, which one of the participants described as "full of foreboding and tragedy," came at the expense of President Bush.
John Raines, a professor of religion at Temple University, quoted the president as saying to other leaders of the world, "Come and join us in the Crusade of the Desert Shield." The professor added, "He seemed not to be aware of the meaning the word 'crusade' would have for Moslems."
The conference on the Temple campus was co-sponsored by the religion departments of Temple and Hartford Seminary in Connecticut.
Its purpose was to demonstrate to students that the religious and historical roots of the headlines from the Middle East are more complicated, and that a war with Iraq would be more devastating, than the Bush administration would have the public believe, said Mahmoud M. Ayoub, another religion professor at Temple.
Mr. Ayoub and several other speakers saw U.S. hypocrisy in the different reactions to the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait and the Israeli occupation of the Palestinians' lands.
While Moslems and both Arab and non-Arab Christians were represented among the speakers, a Jewish point of view was represented only in questions from students.
"Zionist intent from the beginning has been expansionist," said Wadi Z. Haddad, of the Hartford Seminary faculty. He argued that the West's guilt over the horrors of the Holocaust should have led to accommodating Jews in Europe.
Said Mr. Ayoub: "If the present conflict is defused, ideals remain ideals. If it comes to war, ideals become firearms, and God only knows what will happen then."